Using Water Based Wood Conditioner

By Bruce Johnson

Despite the old adage, “Water and wood don’t mix,” today we can use water-based stains and finishes on our wood projects. Since water does cause raw wood fibers to swell slightly, we’ll use a few different application techniques, but the results are well worth it. If you’re interested, keep on reading!

Water based products are growing in popularity for several reasons: they don’t emit strong fumes, they dry very quickly, and they offer us a variety of wood tone and brilliant colors, including China Red, Deep Ocean, Mustard, and Hunter Green.

I often use the traditional three-step approach:  pre-stain wood conditioner, stain, then finish. This method gives you complete control over the final color of your wood and the sheen of your finish: satin, semi-gloss, or gloss. Our first step is to prepare the wood for staining.

Pre-stain conditioner helps avoid blotchiness, and here’s proof. I stained the board on the left without first applying any Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. I also stained a similar board (right) with my Terracotta Water Based Stain  — but AFTER I had applied the Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. See why I like it?

After sanding this stool with #180-grit sandpaper, I brushed on a coat of Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. It penetrates the grain and helps prevent streaking and blotching when staining. I prefer a synthetic bristle brush that I can clean with just soap and water, then re-use later.

After five minutes, wipe off any unabsorbed Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner, then let it dry for 15-30 minutes. Afterwards you will notice a slight fuzziness to the wood grain, which is normal. To smooth the wood, simply sand it lightly with #180-grit sandpaper, then wipe off the dust.

You are now ready to apply your water based stain, and with 50 traditional wood tone and contemporary colors to choose from, your greatest dilemma just may be picking out a favorite. If you would like some tips on applying water based stains, check out my earlier blog “Turning Water Into Wine — Or Wine Into Herbs.”

Until then,

Thanks for stopping by!


PS – Be sure to check out the Minwax® Facebook page for even more tips and techniques!



About Bruce Johnson

Author-craftsman Bruce Johnson has introduced millions of do-it-yourselfers, craftspeople and antique collectors to the world of wood finishing and antique restoration. As the official spokesperson for Minwax®, the leading manufacturer of wood finishing and wood care products, Bruce motivates people to take the initiative to beautify their surroundings. Through his many books, magazine articles and columns, as well as frequent appearances on national television talk shows, Johnson is recognized as an authority in the do-it-yourself community. Appearing on PBS, HGTV, The Discovery Channel, and currently hosting “DIY Woodworking” and “Build A Log Cabin”, on the DIY cable network, Johnson has brought the illustrious craft of wood finishing to the forefront of the American home. An expert in wood refinishing, antique restoration, and home improvement, Bruce has published more than a dozen books on these topics, including Fifty Simple Ways To Save Your House, The Wood Finisher, The Weekend Refinisher, and The Official Identification and Price Guide to the Arts and Crafts Movement. For more than 20-years, he penned an antique refinishing advice column, "Knock on Wood," which ran in dozens of antique/collectibles publications. Currently, he writes a column on Arts & Crafts for Style 1900 magazine. A rare combination of craftsman and journalist, Johnson began his career as a high school English teacher, but left teaching to set up his "Knock on Wood Antique Repair & Restoration" shop. He spent the next 10 years as a full-time professional refinisher, but eventually returned to writing. Yet, Johnson says, he won't ever be without a workbench and a couple of refinishing projects down in the basement. Johnson is also the founder and director of the Arts and Crafts Conference and Antique Show held every February in Asheville, North Carolina, at the Grove Park Inn. The conference, which includes the largest Arts and Crafts antiques show, attracts more than 1500 Arts and Crafts collectors each year to its many seminars, tours, demonstrations and exhibits. Johnson is proud to have played a role in reviving interest in designers like Gustav Stickley, who founded the Arts and Crafts movement. His latest book, “Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Furniture,” was awarded the 2009 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. These furnishings are treasured by such collectors as Steven Spielberg and Bruce Willis, among many others.

5 comments on “Using Water Based Wood Conditioner

  1. Dave

    Im using colonial maple stain but it doesnt color like i have previously had it do.maybe, if i uses the pre conditioner it would help

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Every stain is affected by the inherent color of the wood and how much stain the pores will absorb, Dave, so you may not get the identical color each time you use Colonial Maple. The Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner will not have much impact on the color of the wood, so I would not try that. Instead, I would experiment with a different color of stain. Hope that helps! – Bruce Johnson

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Thanks for asking, Anita. Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish will give you a durable, clear finish without the fumes associated with oil-based finishes. It is available in all major home improvement centers. – Bruce Johnson


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *